Women in the Judiciary

by Micah on September 25, 2003

Shameless plug: a group I work with at the University of Virginia law school is hosting a “panel”:http://www.law.virginia.edu/lawweb/lawweb2.nsf/pages/lev2calc?OpenDocument&Fr1=zzzlawnotes2.law.virginia.edu/lawweb/event1.nsf/WABW&Fr2=/home2002/frames/lf_News.htm on “Women in the Judiciary” later today. Two federal appellate judges and a justice from the “Virginia Supreme Court”:http://www.courts.state.va.us/scv/home.html will take questions for about an hour and half. Dahlia Lithwick (to whom this slightly “scary”:http://www.blueblanket.net/Dahlia/dahlia.html fan blog is devoted) kindly agreed to moderate.

Preparing for the panel, I came across some interesting–though not terribly surprising–demographic information on women in the U.S. federal judiciary. The Federal Judiciary Center has a nice “database”:http://www.fjc.gov/newweb/jnetweb.nsf/fjc_history?OpenFrameSet (look for the Federal Judges Biographical Database) that lets you search for information about federal judges using about a dozen different variables, including who nominated them and when. I ran a search on “Nominating President” and “Gender” and got these results:

bq. From Kennedy to Ford, there were a total of six women appointed to the federal bench; Carter appointed 40 women out of 257 total appointments, Regan 29/372, Bush 36/211, Clinton 104/367, and Bush II 29/144 (so far).

Note that Clinton appointed almost as many women to the bench as all of the presidents before him combined. Looking at the percentages, about 28% of Clinton’s nominees were women, which roughly equals the percentage of women in the legal profession. (For statistics on the number of women in the legal profession in the U.S., go “here”:http://www.abanet.org/women/articles.html.) W’s numbers are lower than Clinton’s to date, though, given the growth of women in the profession, one would hope the numbers would go up.



C.J.Colucci 09.25.03 at 4:45 pm

I suspect that W’s female (and minority) numbers will ultimately reflect not so much a desire to appoint such persons but a version of his father’s Clarence Thomas strategy, selling candidates whose views would make them vulnerable if they were white men by putting those views in diverse packages.
Doesn’t always work, of course.


James Joyner 09.25.03 at 8:08 pm

A “judiciary in women” conference would be more interesting, I think.


Beldar 09.27.03 at 2:12 am

Carter’s numbers are skewed by virtue of the fact that there was a huge number of new seats created for him to fill on the district and circuit court benches as part of the Omnibus Judgeship Act of 1978. Carter responded by decentralizing the appointment process, relying very heavily on state-by-state designees to recommend appointments to him.

The Fifth Circuit judge for whom I clerked, Carolyn D. King, who’s now Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit, was one of five new Fifth Circuit judges confirmed in a single day, IIRC, but because she was the chronologically youngest, was considered the least among them in seniority and thus had a long wait to become Chief Judge. (Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder is also an Omnibus Act appointee.)

In Judge King’s particular case, the distributed appointment process probably was a plus, since her background was as a corporate securities “deal lawyer” — a position that was unlikely to bring her to the attention of anyone in Washington, but from which she could be properly recognized and appreciated by Pres. Carter’s Texas designee, the managing partner of a large Houston law firm. In fact, I suspect that her background as a “deal lawyer” brought more in terms of useful “diversity” to the Fifth Circuit bench than did her background as a woman, but regardless, I’m a huge fan of hers and will always count the year I spent clerking for her among my proudest professional accomplishments.

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